One-Year After TSCA Signed Into Law, Where Do We Stand on an Asbestos Ban?

This time last year, we at the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) were jumping for joy and doing victory laps. After nearly a decade of nail-tough negotiations, common sense reforms to the decrepit (and deadly) 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) were finally signed into law.

For ADAO, this meant the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was finally empowered to ban asbestos. This set of reforms, dubbed the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century (LCSA), eliminated business-friendly loopholes that required EPA to consider the economic burden of any potential restriction or regulation. Under the 2016 TSCA, EPA must evaluate chemicals solely on health-based standards.

A lot has happened in the year that has passed since TSCA was signed into law, so it seems high time for an update on the progress and challenges in our work toward an asbestos ban.

Asbestos as the Poster Child

When signing LCSA into law, President Barak Obama became the first sitting US president to publically acknowledge asbestos as a “known carcinogen that kills as many as 10,000 Americans every year.” By making this statement during the signing ceremony, President Obama framed asbestos as the poster child for the necessity of the reforms as well as the litmus test by which LCSA’s success will be measured.

Priority Status

LCSA tasked the EPA with a pretty tall order: to evaluate and, if needed, regulate more than 80,000 chemicals already active in U.S. commerce. In order to kick-start this Herculean task, the agency was required to select and prioritize 10 of the most dangerous chemicals. In November, asbestos was rightfully selected for priority risk evaluation to begin in 2017, which will hopefully be followed by a swift ban.

Stronger Together

From the beginning of LCSA negotiations to now, ADAO has remained a staunch stakeholder. Throughout the process, we’ve garnered incredible solidarity from other advocates and nonprofits — including heavy hitters like Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families (SCHF), Environmental Working Group (EWG), and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) — which has strengthened our position exponentially.

We also saw important consensus against Trump’s directive to “repeal, replace, or modify regulations” related to LCSA and TSCA. Advocates and chemical industry alike agreed that this important bill should stay off the regulatory rollback chopping block.

Finally, it’s important to remember that this bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan and bicameral support — proof and a much-needed reminder that such co-operation IS possible in Washington.

The Trump Effect

The unfortunate reality is that all of this progress happened when President Obama was in office, and the EPA was run by Obama appointees. Trump’s election and subsequent appointments threaten to undermine the historic accomplishments of the past year.

Not only does Trump question science on a regular basis, he has specifically bad track record when it comes to asbestos. Trump has claimed that asbestos is “100 percent safe” and that the effort to ban and abate asbestos is a mafia conspiracy. He’s also been on a warpath against regulations since Day 1, and the EPA has been a prime target.

What may be even worse than Trump’s own stances on asbestos and regulation are the appointments being made by him and his team. Scott Pruitt, Trump’s EPA Administrator, is a rampant climate change denier and a lawyer — not a scientist of any sort. He even proudly touts the many lawsuits he brought against the EPA when he was Oklahoma’s Attorney General.

Along with Pruitt, we have grave concerns about the appointment of Dr. Nancy Beck to lead the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. Her immediate past employment is with the American Chemistry Council (ACC), a powerful lobbying group for the chemical industry. She is required to recuse herself from any discussions directly mentioning ACC, a concerning sign that she may lack the ability to objectively and fairly implement TSCA.

Lobbying & Propaganda

There’s only one industry that still uses asbestos in manufacturing — other industries, such as construction and automotive, have long since switched to safer substitutes. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the chlor-alkali industry was responsible for 100% of the asbestos consumption in the U.S. 2016. They use it to make chlorine and caustic soda, but only in 40% of their plants — they use asbestos-free methods more than half the time.

If the chlor-alkali industry would simply stop using asbestos and transition all of their plants to the safer process, we would have a de facto ban Unfortunately, the chlor-alkali industry doesn’t want to stop using asbestos — and they have a loud voice in Washington.

Since LCSA legislative discussions began, the ACC, which lobbies on behalf of the chlor-alkali industry, has been repeatedly requesting an exemption from any forthcoming asbestos regulation, claiming the industry uses the carcinogen safely. Industry’s efforts to spin the science, they even produced a bright, shiny infographic explaining just how safe the asbestos use throughout various steps of the manufacturing process.

This assertion is, of course, contrary to the determination made by every leading scientific organization, including the World Health Organization (WHO), which are all in consensus that there is “no safe level” of exposure.

Looking Forward

To be sure, we’ve made monumental strides toward an asbestos ban over the past year. In the same time, some new and admittedly tricky challenges have cropped up in our path.

As we move forward, ADAO will of course remain a strong stakeholder in discussions. For now, our efforts are concentrated around demonstrating to the EPA how imperative it is that when they ban asbestos, they do so without any exemptions or loopholes that allow the chlor-alkali or any other industry to continue recklessly using this deadly carcinogen.

Despite justified concerns, we remain confident that the EPA will heed the resounding consensus of science about asbestos and faithfully uphold their duty to protect Americans by enacting an exemption-free asbestos ban. You can help push our message by sharing news with your networks and signing our petition to the EPA. In the meantime, we’ll be sure to keep you updated with the latest progress and challenges from the front lines. The irrefutable fact remains — Asbestos Kills.